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NATO's Stoltenberg calls on Canada to deliver on defence – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

NATO’s secretary-general is commending Canada on its investments in northern defence systems, but also says it’s important Canada deliver on its promises to spend two per cent of its GDP on defence to meet its commitments to the alliance.

Jens Stoltenberg  wrapped up his two-day visit to Nunavut and Alberta on Friday, after touring the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, meeting with Indigenous Elders and community leaders, and seeing Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel.

Stoltenberg also visited a North Warning System site, which is part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad). The Liberal government announced in June it was making the largest upgrade to Norad in the last forty years.

In a press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Cold Lake, Alta., on Friday, Stoltenberg stressed the importance to shoring up defences in the Arctic as the “shortest path to North America for Russian missiles and bombers would be over the North Pole.”

In an exclusive broadcast interview with CTV News Alberta Bureau Chief Bill Fortier, Stoltenberg said while conflict may not start in the Arctic, but it could easily move there “because of its strategic importance to the alliance.”

Both Stoltenberg and Trudeau stressed the importance of investing in northern defence in light of what Stoltenberg called “significant Russian military buildup in the high North.”

He says while he recognizes all the work Canada is doing with NATO in Latvia, on the Baltic Sea, and in Romania — in addition to its recent investments in Norad — he always expects all NATO allies to invest more.

“Canada has increased defence spending over the last years that has enabled them also to announce new big investments, for instance, in new fighter jets and modernizing Norad,” he said. “Other allies are also stepping up and starting to invest more. We welcome that. But of course I expect all of us, including Canada, to meet the commitments we all agreed to spend — two per cent of GDP on defence.”

Below is a full transcript of the interview with CTV News’ Bill Fortier. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Bill Fortier: You took a tour yesterday, and you’re the first secretary-general of NATO ever to visit the North. Were you satisfied with what you saw in terms of what Canada is doing in the North and what Canada is spending in the North?

Jens Stoltenberg: “Canada is doing a very important job for the whole alliance in the North by providing everything you do in Norad, in providing situational awareness, radar, but also to be able to react if something dangerous happens up there. I also, of course, welcome the decision by Canada to modernize Norad, which is so important for not only Canada and North America, but for the whole alliance. And then also, I’d like to commend Canada not only for investing in military capabilities, which are of course important for NATO and for the alliance, but also in knowledge to understand not least the consequences of climate change up in the North.”

Bill Fortier: What Canada’s doing in the North doesn’t even compare at all to what Russia is doing in its Arctic. You talked about it multiple times. So it’s clear that this is a concern for NATO. How real is the threat of Russian aggression in the Arctic, in your opinion?

Jens Stoltenberg: “I think it’s dangerous to speculate, but what we see is a significant Russian military buildup in the high North with new weapons systems, with advanced missiles, they are testing modern nuclear weapons, including also hypersonic missiles. So of course this we’ll have to take seriously. I think not so many people believe that the conflict will start in the high North, but a conflict may easily move to the high North because of its strategic importance for the whole alliance, but also because it’s actually the shortest path between Russia and North America. So therefore, of course, it’s important what Canada does, and we welcome both a decision to modernize Norad, to invest in fifth generation aircraft — but also of course, that other allies are stepping up: the United States, but also other NATO allies in the Arctic. When Finland and Sweden join the alliance, seven out of eight Arctic nations will be NATO allies.”

Bill Fortier: You spoke of the shortest distance for missiles to come here being over the North. That’s a scary thought that we really haven’t talked about or heard about in Canada since the 80s. What more does Canada need to do right now other than bolstering a radar system where we can see these things coming? Does Canada need ships in the water, more of them, need boots on the ground in the North? Does Canada need aircrafts to monitor and respond to a threat? What more would you like to see Canada do in the north?

Jens Stoltenberg: “I welcome that Canada has decided to modernize Norad, which is the key tool not only to detect but also to respond if something happens up in the high North. I’m now at the Cold Lake base where we have the tactical aircraft force, which will play a key role in responding to any attack against North America. Second, of course, more advanced systems, for instance, the decision to invest in fifth generation aircraft by Canada, will protect Canada but also protect North America and the whole of NATO. Ships, intelligence, surveillance capabilities, all of that is important. Canada has announced more investments. We welcome that. But you also know that Canada is one of several Arctic nations in the alliance. So I also welcome the fact that we are working more closely together as allies in the high North.”

Bill Fortier: These are things that Canada is doing, but in your opinion, does Canada need to do more than what it’s already promised?

Jens Stoltenberg: “Well, allies are stepping up in the high North and that in a way reflects that allies recognize that we need to do more, because the strategic importance of the high North is increasing, partly because of Russia’s military buildup, partly because of China’s increased interest for the high North, partly because of climate change — which makes the high North more accessible and changes the current climate conditions in our North. All of this has led to decisions by Canada but also by other allies to step up. So I think the most important thing is that we now deliver on what we all have promised as NATO allies.”

Bill Fortier: Speaking of that, you’re being diplomatic here in Canada, but in the past you have said that two per cent of GDP spending on that on defence is the base. That shouldn’t be the goal. That should be where we start from and Canada’s not even close to there. Did you bring that up? And is that disappointing for you? Diplomacy aside, does Canada need to get to that two per cent?

Jens Stoltenberg: “Canada has increased defence spending over the last years that has enabled them also to announce new big investments, for instance, in new fighter jets and modernizing Norad. Other allies are also stepping up and started to invest more, we welcome that. But of course I expect all of us, including Canada, to meet the commitments we all agreed to spend, two per cent of GDP on defence.”

Bill Fortier: And now Canada has promised $5 billion in the short term for these Norad improvements that you toured and talked about, nearly $40 billion over the next 20 years. Is the need more urgent than that? Is the need now, is the risk and the threat now? Does some of this money needs to be spent more quickly?

Jens Stoltenberg: “We are in constant dialogue with all allies on the exact capabilities we expect different allies to deliver. We are working with Canada, we’re working with other allies, to ensure that they deliver those capabilities in time. Canada is stepping up, both when it comes to the high North, but Canada is also contributing to NATO in many other ways which is important for security, including [with the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group] NATO has in Latvia, ships in the Baltic Sea, and also more presence in Romania. So I would like to commend Canada for contributing to NATO in so many different ways and then we expect that Canada, as other allies, invest more.”

Bill Fortier: You’re clearly an expert in diplomacy and in respecting the sovereign decisions that these countries are making that are part of NATO, but Canada has opted out of the ballistic missile defence systems that the U.S. has built. In your opinion, based on what you see happening around the world, does Canada need a ballistic missile defence system?

Jens Stoltenberg: “I trust that Canada and the United States are able to find the best way of organizing the defence of the North American territory, and I welcome the very close cooperation between the United States and Canada and Norad. That’s unique that two countries are able to work so closely together as the United States and Canada do in Norad, and I welcome that Norad is going to be modernized. That’s what I’m going to say about this now because I also know that there’s a constant dialogue between NATO allies on how to best work together.”

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Danielle Smith: Facts about Alberta’s new premier, United Conservative Party leader

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CALGARY — Former journalist and business owner Danielle Smith won the United Conservative Party’s leadership race on Thursday and, in doing so, becomes Alberta’s next premier. Here are some facts about Smith:

Born: April 1, 1971 in Calgary.

Family: She is married to David Moretta and has a stepson.

Before politics: Smith graduated with degrees in economics and English from the University of Calgary. She was a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education. She wrote editorials with the Calgary Herald and hosted a current affairs TV show called “Global Sunday.” She was a provincial director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She and her husband now own and operate The Dining Car restaurant in High River.

Politics: In 2009, she won the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance, later to become the Wildrose Party. In the 2012 provincial election, Smith won a seat in the constituency of Highwood and the party took over official Opposition status from the Liberals, In 2014, she led eight Wildrose members across the floor to join the governing Progressive Conservatives. After much backlash, she lost in the 2015 election.

Quote: “After everything I’ve done in the past to divide the movement, then try to bring it together the wrong way, I feel like I owe it to the conservative movement to do what I can to be a force of unity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Iran flight relatives say Canada a haven for regime officials

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OTTAWA — Relatives of those killed when Iran’s military shot down Flight PS752 in January 2020 say Canada has become a safe haven for regime officials.

“Canada has become a safe haven for the criminals of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Hamed Esmaeilion testified Thursday afternoon to the House justice committee.

Esmaeilion leads a group representing grieving families, many of whom are aware of numerous people who have worked for the regime, or are related to senior officials, moving freely in Canada.

“This is a big concern for Iranian people,” he said.

Amid a brutal crackdown on women’s and human rights protesters across Iran, the federal Liberals are facing mounting pressure to deem a section of Iran’s army as a terrorist group.

That has coincided with the 1,000-day anniversary of the downing of Flight PS752 near Tehran, which killed 176 people, most of whom were headed through Ukraine to Canada.

No one has been held accountable.

Esmaeilion chalked that up to a naive bureaucracy that sees Iran as a normal country.

“It’s mainly the legal teams or the advisers; they still believe in negotiation with Iran because they don’t see Iran, or the Iranian regime, as a Mafia group,” he said.

“If you change your mindset, that you’re not negotiating with Switzerland or a democratic country, then it would solve the problem.”

He said he’s told officials that Canadians would never play a hockey game with North Korea, and yet Canada’s national men’s soccer team was scheduled to play with Iran back in June, before Canada Soccer cancelled amid political pushback.

Esmaeilion said he’s certain people affiliated with Tehran have been responsible for slashing his tires and making phone calls he found threatening.

The RCMP has previously said it is “aware of reports relating to victims experiencing threats, harassment and intimidation.”

And while the Liberals have said they updated their sanctions list Monday based on impact from Esmaeilion’s group, he said there were many more officials that relatives suggested months ago.

“I’m shocked that I don’t see (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei on the list,” he said, adding that President Ebrahim Raisi and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif should be listed.

He also called out Iran’s delegate for the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, saying Farhad Parvaresh should be kicked out of Canada.

This week, a crowd of Iranian Canadians took to Parliament Hill, demanding Ottawa deem the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group.

Experts have said that such a change would be hard to enforce, given that Iran has conscripted millions into the force’s non-combat roles. A terror listing compels Ottawa to freeze assets held inside Canada and deny entry into the country.

Esmaeilion said that is a serious concern, and there may be as many as 15,000 people already living in Canada in that situation. But he said their military documents clearly state whether they had a senior rank and if they had joined the IRGC by choice.

“We can exempt those people. We have talked to several lawyers, and this is a simple solution for putting the IRGC on the list.”

He also reiterated calls to hold responsible those in charge of the downing of the flight that killed his wife and daughter. Esmaeilion’s group wants Canada to refer the case to the ICAO and the International Criminal Court.

“So far, after 1,000 days, we have no road map; we have no time frame,” he said.

In a Wednesday interview, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Canada wants to see justice for the victims of Flight PS752, but must exhaust all avenues with Iran before any international tribunal will take on the case.

“The process is painful, it’s long, it’s cumbersome, it’s complicated,” he said.

“These international bodies are flawed, they’re imperfect, but they are our best way to hold Iran accountable.”

Alghabra said Canada has been helping lead reforms that aim to prevent another catastrophe, such as the Safer Skies initiative. The idea is to have a global body assess when conflict makes it unsafe for civilian flights, and advise companies and states to not take off.

The flight Iran shot down took off hours into a military operation in response to the U.S. assassination of senior Iranian military official Qasem Soleimani.

“PS752 should not have been flying when there was a conflict nearby,” Alghabra said.

– With files from Caitlin Yardley in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, explained – CTV News

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The Supreme Court of Canada will take time to weigh arguments about the constitutionality of an 18-year refugee agreement between Ottawa and Washington after hearing a challenge Thursday from claimants and human rights advocates.

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) allows Canada to turn away asylum seekers seeking entry from the U.S. at official land border crossings.

However, human rights groups say the U.S. is not a “safe country” for asylum seekers and the pact allows Canada to skirt its international obligations for refugee claimants.

CTVNews.ca breaks down what the agreement entails.

WHAT DOES THE STCA DO?

The Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed in 2002 and came into effect in 2004. Under the agreement, those seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.

That means most asylum seekers who attempt to cross into Canada at an official crossing are turned away and are told they need to make their asylum claim in the U.S., and vice versa. The only exemptions apply to unaccompanied minors and those with close family members living in Canada.

“If one of those narrow exemptions does not apply, you’re not able to make a claim for refugee protection in Canada. And so what that means is that you’re ordered to be removed or deported, and they contact U.S. authorities,” Amnesty International’s Julia Sande told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

But the agreement has one key loophole: it only applies to official land border crossings. That means that asylum seekers who manage to make a refugee claim within Canada while bypassing an official border crossing won’t be sent back to the U.S.

This has prompted tens of thousands of asylum seekers to enter Canada at irregular crossings, such as Roxham Road, a rural road that goes through the border between Quebec and New York State.

HOW MANY ASYLUM SEEKERS HAVE CROSSED IRREGULARLY?

Since February 2017, Canada has seen 67,805 irregular crossers enter the country. Of these, 28,332 (41 per cent) have had their refugee claims approved. In addition, 19,646 refugee claims have been rejected, 13,369 are still pending and the rest have either been withdrawn or abandoned, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

Irregular crossings into Canada surged after Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017, as concerns grew over his anti-immigration rhetoric and executive orders limiting the number of refugees admitted.

According to data from the IRB, the number of irregular crossings peaked between July and September 2017. During this time period, 8,558 asylum seekers irregularly crossed into Canada, corresponding to an average of 2,853 per month.

The average number of irregular crossers per month dipped after that and hovered between 1,200 and 1,400 from late 2018 to early 2020. However, irregular crossings came to a near screeching halt after COVID-19 restrictions at the border were put in place in March 2020 and asylum seekers were sent back to the U.S. unless they met one of the exemptions.

In November 2021, as Canada continued lifting COVID-19 measures at the border, irregular crossers were once again allowed to enter the country and make a claim. Between April and June 2022, 4,512 irregular crossers entered Canada — the most seen since 2019, according to the IRB.

WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF THE STCA SAY?

In 2017, Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and the Canadian Council of Churches launched a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement.

The organizations say the legislation underpinning the STCA violates Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person, in addition to Section 15, which guarantees equal protection and benefit under the law.

Sande says asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada often face immigration detention in the U.S.

“When people are in detention, they’re subjected to solitary confinement, staggering rates of sexual violence, really inhumane conditions, not given religiously appropriate food,” she said. “The detention in itself is problematic and harmful. But in addition, when you’re in detention, it’s a lot more difficult to access counsel.”

Sande says the increased difficulty accessing legal counsel means asylum seekers have a higher chance of being deported. On top of that, she said crossing the border at irregular crossings can come with serious risks.

Many of these crossers use Roxham Road, where the RCMP have set up a presence to handle the high volume of asylum seekers. But at other parts of the border, some asylum seekers have made long journeys on foot through empty farm fields in the winter, risking frostbite.

“We’ve heard of people losing fingers from frostbite and really putting themselves at risk. And so I would say it’s neither compassionate nor orderly,” Sande said.

Canada is also subject to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which stipulates that states cannot return refugees to dangerous countries. The human rights groups argue the pact lets Canada “contract out” its international obligations to refugee claimants without proper followup the U.S. is doing the job.

In July 2020, the Federal Court agreed, and ruled the Safe Third Country Agreement was unconstitutional. The federal government appealed the ruling and last December, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case.

WHAT HAVE FEDERAL PARTIES SAID?

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois have long called on the federal government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, and allow asylum seekers to cross into Canada at official crossings so they won’t have to make potentially dangerous journeys through irregular crossings.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives say the STCA should be strengthened to allow Canada to send irregular crossers back to the U.S.

The three opposition parties recently signed a letter calling for an inquiry looking at how public funds were used to build intake facilities at the border near Roxham Road.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada “works with the U.S. government every day to improve the Safe Third Country Agreement.” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told CTV’s Your Morning the agreement “has served Canada well” and is necessary to ensure that the border “remains well-managed.”

“Canada believes that the STCA remains a comprehensive means for the compassionate, fair and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries,” IRCC said in an email statement.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also called on the feds to close the unofficial Roxham Road crossing and said his government does not have the capacity to deal with the influx of people. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said on Thursday the government is working “very carefully with Quebec” to manage the flow of asylum seekers.

“We transfer significant federal funds to that province every year to help with ensuring that there is due process, that there… is a baseline of support for people who are filing claims,” he told reporters before a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

“We have to reach agreements, with partnerships with the United States, with Quebec, and that’s exactly what the federal government will do,” he added in French.

With files from The Canadian Press

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